British Columbia·Video

Paragliding competition brings colourful spectacle to Pemberton

The Canadian Paragliding Championships fly into Pemberton this week.

Look, up in the sky! It's a bird. It's a plane. It's the Canadian paragliding championships

Paragliders soar through the sky

5 years ago
Duration 0:27
The Canadian Paragliding Championships in Pemberton, B.C. brings competitors from around the globe 0:27

The goal is to complete "tasks" which sounds about as exciting as vacuuming cat hair off the couch, until you realize that in paragliding "tasks" are what they call the virtual course marker set high in the sky and through which all competitors must fly, as they race to the finish line. 

So, not like vacuuming cat hair at all.

"The best way I can describe it is like a sailing race in the sky, except with our race we want two-thirds of the ships to sink," said Guy Herrington, organizer of the Canadian Paragliding Championships in Pemberton. 

The Canadian paragliding championships in Pemberton has attracted pilots and volunteers from 17 different nations. (Peter Chrzanowski)

He doesn't mean sink as in crash to the ground, because that would be bad.

In paragliding, it is considered a good thing — and proof of a well-set course — if two thirds of the field "sink out" or fail to remain aloft all the way to the finish.

Pemberton has become a paragliding destination over the years. (Ricardo Coral)

"It's like a bell curve kind of thing. You want to set tasks where not everyone makes it," said Herrington. 

"If everyone makes it to goal, it's too easy. But you don't want no one to make it, because that's too hard."

Competitors launch from Mount MacKenzie and use GPS enabled computers to race on courses as long as 120 kilometres. (Ricardo Coral)

Pilots use GPS enabled onboard computers to navigate the course, which changes daily and can run as long as 120 kilometres.

They launch off Mount MacKenzie and finish at a set point somewhere on the valley floor. The rules restrict competitors to a maximum height of 12,500 feet — almost four kilometres high — because the airspace is on a flight path into Vancouver International Airport.

Two competitors over the Pemberton Valley. (Kim Collins)

Paragliding sometimes gets a bad rep for being dangerous, but Herrington says it's no more or less safe than skiing or downhill mountain biking. 

"People expect it to be a real adrenaline rush but ... there's no jumping or free fall, as with skydiving. You literally bring the wing up over you head and step off the hillside and float around on the air currents," he said. 

"I find it peaceful and very relaxing. Some people do yoga. I do paragliding."

Piloting a paraglider is thirsty work, apparently. (Kim Collins)

The eight day event in Pemberton brings together 86 competitors and 70 volunteers from 17 different countries. Competition runs through July 29 and can be viewed from almost anywhere in town. 

Canadian paragliding championships fly into Pemberton

5 years ago
Duration 0:46
The view from Brett Hazlett's paraglider soaring above the Pemberton Valley at the 2017 Canadian Paragliding Nationals. 0:46


Karin Larsen


Karin Larsen is a former Olympian and award winning sports broadcaster who covers news and sports for CBC Vancouver.